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Miami celebrates its diverse heritage

(ran SS edition of METRO & STATE)

A century ago Miami was born out of an uneasy alliance between whites and blacks.

Today, as Miami celebrates its 100th birthday, it has grown from a tropical village with salt-scarred trading posts, pink Art Deco hotels and retirement homes into one of the world's busiest, most exotic centers of trade and tourism.

It is home to five multinational corporations and major offices for scores of major Latin American companies tapped into the city's economic link with the Americas.

Only one of 10 Miami residents are natives. Foreign-born residents, primarily Hispanics, make up 62 percent of the city of Miami's 358,548 residents. Whites account for 12 percent while blacks make up 24 percent.

In surrounding Dade County, the Hispanic population totals 1.2-million, or 58 percent of the 2-million residents.

But in its early years the city relied on blacks to help build homes, hotels and stores. They also helped construct Henry Flagler's Florida East Coast Railway in the early 1900s, opening quick overland travel to the marshlands of South Florida and beyond to the Keys.

The city was incorporated July 28, 1896, when 200 white men met in a room above a pool hall. Bound by a law requiring at least 300 votes for incorporation, the group did something unheard of in a time when most blacks were routinely denied the right to vote in this country: They asked more than 100 black laborers to cast ballots, too.

The first vote recorded was that of black laborer Silas Austin.

"When my grandfather came from the Bahamas, things were a lot different then," Miami native Thelma Gibson, 69, said of laborer Daniel William Anderson's arrival in 1887.

"I think it's improved between whites and blacks. But other than that I'm not sure. I'd like to think so."

Blacks made up a sizeable chunk of the city's electorate _ 43 percent _ at the turn of the century. But many did not gain access to Miami's white beaches, universities, schools and city sanitation services until the 1960s.

The '60s pushed Miami into yet another era as blacks struggled for equal rights and more than 200,000 Cubans made a mass exodus to Florida after Fidel Castro took power.

Blacks have seen their share of the city's electorate decline to 23 percent as the Latin population has swelled.

Still, throughout Miami's 100 years, one thing has been consistent _ change. And for historian Arva Moore Parks, well, time is just progress.

"Anytime you have changes, everyone loves the good old days," Parks said. "But I ask them _ which good old time in Miami do you mean?"